In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years. My basic question: Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them? John Wimberly says in his editorial:
The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s. Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry. Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment. They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.
I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan. I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future. I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.
And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate. Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close. I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).
Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church. As John Wimberly continues to say:
When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled. Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups. Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.
Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries. It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.
It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.
I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.